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Home > Basin > Nile > Seed funds to oil the wheels of innovation in rainwater management: what have we learned?

As part of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC), local Innovation Platforms (IPs) have been established in three sites in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia: Diga and Jeldu woredas (districts) in the Oromia region, and Fogera woreda in the Amhara region. Platforms were formed following research that found that natural resource planning and implementation at woreda level was driven by top-down targets, and that Wheels 1local governments struggled to achieve farmer involvement and cross-sectoral integration – both essential ingredients for sustainable land and water management. The platforms aimed to bring stakeholders together (government offices, NGOs, researchers and community representatives) to identify joint solutions to pressing rainwater management challenges.

But how could action be incentivized when the returns on investment in natural resource management are so long-term? Past experiences with innovation platforms in the Fodder Adoption Project, among others, showed that the possibility of new market opportunities was a powerful incentive for stakeholder engagement. But there is no such clear incentive in the case of rainwater management. The NBDC therefore decided to trial the provision of a small grant fund from CPWF (the ‘Innovation Fund’) to the three platforms, to kick start activities and encourage people to get around the table. Getting funding incentives right is tricky. It is important to avoid a situation where people engage only because of the opportunity to access finance. The team hoped to demonstrate the value of innovation platforms by providing a small start-up fund for the first set of activities, with the hope that after participating in these, members would see the benefits of working this way and decide to continue by themselves.

In 2012 an Innovation Fund was therefore provided to each platform, on the basis of proposals developed by members, to enable piloting of new approaches to rainwater management. The criteria for funding were that proposals had to be cross-sectoral, participatory, and targeted at addressing local concerns. ILRI staff supported platform members to prioritise issues and develop ideas together, and also worked with community members to identify their priorities and bring these to the table at platform meetings.

In all three sites, platforms decided to work on fodder planting and control of free grazing. Uncontrolled free grazing was recognised as contributing to soil erosion, while many farmers faced fodder shortages for their livestock. In all sites, government soil and water conservation activities were ongoing, and platform members saw the potential for synergies by controlling grazing (to prevent bunds from being trampled) and planting bunds with improved fodder varieties (to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstabilise structures, and increase fodder availability). Fodder was planted across a range of land types to determine the best approach: communal lands, private fields and backyards. In addition, the process of developing by-laws for grazing control has begun in all three sites. ILRI has provided ongoing training and process and technical support to the interventions.

Platforms are monitoring the success of interventions, sharing their experiences through farmer field days and planning scale-up activities for the next year. Although it is too early to identify impacts on soil and water condition, participating farmers are pleased with the interventions and other farmers have expressed interest in taking up the new fodder varieties. In Fogera, for example, some nine tons of fodder has already been harvested, enabling eleven cattle to be fattened for market. Some farmers now see the potential to develop dairy markets.

Some questions still surround the way in which the pilots were planned and implemented by platforms, however. It has not been easy to promote meaningful farmer involvement in decision-making, and many community members see the pilots as a fairly typical government or NGO project. Transforming longstanding ways of working, particularly fostering participation, is a long term and politicised process to which establishing platforms – even with intensive support and engagement – can only contribute so much. Over the last year a lot of monitoring and research effort has centered on better understanding how political relations play out in the IPs and between IP members and farmers, with the aim of informing further work with these platforms and learning for other projects. This will help us to better understand the incentives for different actors, why they continue to participate in the platform (or not), and draw lessons for the future use of start-up funds for innovation platforms.

Further Reading:

  • Ludi, E. et al. (2013) Rhetoric and realities: a diagnosis of rainwater management development processes in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia. Colombo, Sri Lanka: CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). 58p. (CPWF Research for Development (R4D) Series 5).
  • Cullen, B. (2013) Communal grazing land management in Fogera: Lessons from innovation platform action research. NBDC Blogpost.